What defines a role-playing game has become ambiguous over the years. Today, RPGs can involve turn-based fantasy elements, sprawling sci-fi worlds, and third-person gunplay.   The lines separating the genre from the rest of gaming may be fuzzier than ever, but that doesn’t mean that the role-playing landscape is of any lesser quality. Catch the highlights with our picks for the standout characters, moments, and mechanics in the RPGs of 2012.

Best Narrative: Mass Effect 3

The story in Mass Effect 3 is the culmination of a war that has been brewing for years. The plot is full of stunning moments, the character arcs reach satisfying conclusions, and the ending…well, opinions vary on that point. Even with a divisive final sequence, the bulk of Mass Effect 3’s narrative tells an emotional and ambitious tale unlike anything else in gaming.

Best Combat System: Final Fantasy XIII-2

Refining the already fantastic combat from Final Fantasy XIII, this direct sequel cuts away the fat, makes the action even faster, and adds a new monster collection component. It is one of the most polished battle systems we’ve ever seen; the only bad thing is that you have to put up with the story sequences between each encounter.

Best Setting: Xenoblade Chronicles 

A compelling world is an important ingredient in any RPG, and Xenoblade Chronicles ensures that players want to know everything about their surroundings. This Wii-exclusive title is set on the immobile bodies of two gargantuan gods, and the vast zones (populated by bizarre and terrifying creatures) leave you eager to explore everything the world has to offer.